Ashley Wagner might have come away with the title, but it was 17-year-old Gracie Gold’s coming out party tonight at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha. The Chicago native catapulted from ninth place after the short program to win the silver medal in the ladies competition with the best free skate of the night.
Wagner relied on her thirteen-point cushion from the short program to hang on for her second title after a stunningly disappointing technical performance.
“I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for how difficult this national championships was going to be,” Wagner admitted.
“I think that all things considered, I’m very happy with what I achieved,” said the 21-year-old. “I think that my season definitely helped me get to this point and I want to congratulate Gracie because I heard she had a lights-out skate, phenomenal. For a first year senior, that’s very impressive. Awesome job to her!”
“As for myself, I’m pleased to have another national title under my belt and I think that this lights the fire in my belly to keep on pushing through to perhaps the Four Continents and Worlds,” said Wagner.
Wagner started out steady and sure, landing three triple jumps in the first half of her Samson and Delilah program, but the gold medalist hit trouble soon after. A fall on a solo triple Lutz was followed by a second on a triple loop, leaving no margin for error.
“I was feeling great that first half, then I started to over think it a little,” she explained. “I went down then popped up really fast and I think I still hesitated by the time I got to the next jump. I stood up on that last flip, and I think that the turnout as a whole was okay. It could have been better, but the season that I’ve had so far really helped me with this placement.”
However, Wagner pulled it together, nailing her final triple flip, and maintaining the cunning persona of her program’s character to become the first American lady to repeat as champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005.
“To join that type of a club with Michelle (Kwan) is an absolutely honor and I am so pleased to have been able to accomplish that,” the Alexandria, Va., native said. “That was one of my main goals this season; I wanted to be able to say I was a repeat national champion, and I think that I definitely lucked out this competition. I think my past performance helped me at this competition and knowing that, it only pushes me more to make sure that I have the rest of the season be nice and solid.
Wagner finished with 121.27 points in the free skate—second to Gold, and totaled 188.84 points in the competition.
Gold skated early in the competition, and seemed free of the pressure that contributed to her struggle in the short program on Thursday night. The 2011 U.S. junior champion nailed seven triple jumps, including an opening triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination that earned the silver medalist 11.90 points.
“I stopped focusing on what was around me, the crowd, the screaming, the other skaters, the pressure, the expectations – I let it all go,” she confessed. “I just pictured myself at my rink in Chicago and even the practices here, how I would skate if I was practicing.”
“Just the feel of the knees, the feel of the ice, one thing at a time,” Gold continued. “I didn’t get over my head with thoughts or expectations. I just went out there and skated like I know how to skate.”
The reigning Junior World silver medalist skated to music from the soundtrack of “Life is Beautiful,” and performed with a relaxed confidence that fit the program like a glove. The flaxen-haired athlete knew that if she skated well, she had a shot to move up in the standings.
“I actually thought that it could be possible because I have a very loaded long program with difficult elements,” said Gold. “I have a triple Lutz-triple toe and a double Axel-triple toe with all other triples in the program, and I have really nice jumps.”
“I think I’ve really improved a lot on my component marks,” she continued, “so I knew if I skated a perfect program, I knew I would be able to pull up into the podium. I was thinking maybe fourth at best and I ended up being second. I am so happy and so proud.”
Gold score 132.49 points for her winning free skate, and finished with a total of 186.57 points in the competition.
Another Chicago native, 18-year-old Agnes Zawadzki, finished with the bronze medal despite her seventh best free skate total. She earned 114.32 points for her Rhapsody in Blue program, and received a total of 179.63 points in the competition.
“I think I was more mentally better. I really knew my stuff more than last year,” said the bronze medalist. “I definitely had a lot of doubt last year. My mindset is a lot different and I felt like I could do it.”
Zawadzki opened strong, hitting a triple Lutz and a gorgeous triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination. However, later, the 2010 U.S. junior ladies champion struggled, and doubled her intended triple flip and then fell on her second Lutz attempt.
“I want to start by saying that (Wagner and Gold) are such great skaters,” Zawadzki said. “They always push me and keep me motivated to train every day and do my best.”
“I think this competition has built my confidence,” she added. “I’m starting to build it because I didn’t have it last season, but this competition has brought it up a little bit, so I’m very happy with that. The long didn’t go as great as I wanted it to, but I’m very happy with how I ended up.”
Finishing in fourth place in her senior debut was 2011 U.S. junior champion Courtney Hicks. The 17-year-old missed the championships last season due to injury, and seemed hungry to establish her place in the top group of American ladies.
“I had one mistake in the loop, but recovered pretty well,” she said. “I think all the jumps were really good. I performed the best I have all season.”
Hicks was credited with six triple jumps in her Concierto de Aranjuez program, including her opening triple flip-triple toe loop combination. The Placentia, Calif., native was scored as having the third best program of the night (118.20 points), and finished with the pewter medal and a personal best competition total of 177.92 points.
“It was awesome,” Hicks said of her debut. “It was a lot of fun to feel all the energy, and I guess to have such a large ice surface.”
For the fourth consecutive year, Harvard freshman Christina Gao finished in fifth place in the competition. The 18-year-old Cincinnati native hit six triple jumps of her own, but failed to try a triple-triple combination in her Libertango program. The Grand Prix Finalist scored 176.28 points, a new personal best.
“This is what I have been training. I landed everything and landed it well,” Gao said after her program. “I got a little tired at the end, which was not normal for me. Usually in practice I’m totally fine. I don’t know, but out there I felt really tired. I guess it’s been a long week, but other than that, even in my short yesterday, besides the one spin, it’s how I’ve been training and the same with my long, so I’m happy.”
Yasmin Siraj, a 16-year-old from Brookline, Mass., maintained her short program position, and finished in sixth place. The high school junior had the fifth best score of the night—117.19 points for her Seven Years in Tibet program, and finished with a total of 175.07 points.
Olympian Mirai Nagasu, 19, plummeted from third place after the short program to seventh overall after being charged with five under rotation calls and one downgrade to her triple jumps. Visibly disappointing in the Kiss and Cry, the Montebello, Calif., native equaled her finish from last season’s championships.
It is expected that Wagner and Gold will be selected to represent Team USA at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont. Confirmation of the ladies team is forthcoming.